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Do You Pay Taxes on Inheritance? Exploring the Financial Implications

Receiving an inheritance can be both a blessing and a source of confusion, especially when understanding the tax implications. This often raises a critical question: Do you pay taxes on inheritance? For residents of North Carolina, it’s important to navigate the complexities of inheritance taxes to ensure compliance and financial stability. This comprehensive guide will help you understand if you must pay taxes on inheritance and how to manage inherited assets effectively.

Understanding Inheritance Taxes

In the United States, inheritance taxes are governed by both federal and state laws. However, North Carolina does not impose a state inheritance tax, simplifying matters for beneficiaries. Despite this, federal estate taxes may apply, particularly for larger estates. It’s crucial to distinguish between estate taxes (paid by the estate) and inheritance taxes (paid by the beneficiary). 

Federal Estate Taxes

Do you pay taxes on inheritance for federal estates? The federal government imposes estate taxes on the transfer of assets from the deceased to their heirs. As of 2024, the federal estate tax exemption is $12.92 million per individual. Estates valued below this threshold are not subject to federal estate taxes. For estates exceeding this amount, the excess is taxed at rates up to 40%.

A photo of a man handing a model house over to another man. This photo is intended for the article titled, "Do You Pay Taxes on Inheritance?"

The estate is based on the fair market value of the decedent’s assets at the time of death rather than the original purchase price. These can include cash, real estate, stocks, bonds, businesses, and other valuable items. An accurate appraisal of these assets is essential to determining the estate's total value. 

State Taxes in North Carolina

Do you pay taxes on inheritance? As mentioned above, North Carolina does not have a state inheritance tax. This means that if, for example, you are a beneficiary in Raleigh, you do not have to worry about paying state taxes on the inheritance you receive. This simplification answers part of the question: Do you pay taxes on inheritance? However, it is always a good idea to check with a tax professional to ensure that no other state-specific regulations might affect your inheritance. 

Income Tax Considerations

While North Carolina residents do not face state inheritance taxes, they should know potential income tax implications. Certain types of inherited assets, such as retirement accounts, may be subject to income taxes upon distribution. 

Inherited Retirement Accounts

Inherited retirement accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, have specific tax rules. If you inherit a traditional IRA or 401(k), you generally have to pay income taxes on distributions. The SECURE Act of 2019 changed the rules for inherited retirement accounts, requiring most non-spouse beneficiaries to withdraw the account within ten years of the original owner’s death. These withdrawals are subject to income tax, which can significantly impact your financial planning. 

Step-Up in Basis

One favorable tax treatment for inherited assets is the step-up in basis. This means that the cost basis of the inherited property is “stepped up” to its fair market value at the time of the decedent’s death. For example, if you inherit a house that you originally purchased for $100,000 but is worth $300,000 at the time of inheritance, your basis for tax purposes would be $300,000. This can significantly reduce the capital gains tax if you sell the asset. 

Capital Gains Tax

Capital gains tax is another consideration for beneficiaries of an inheritance. If you sell an inherited asset that has appreciated since the decedent's death, you may owe capital gains tax on the difference between the sale price and the stepped-up basis. For example, if you inherited stocks worth $200,000 and later sold them for $350,000, you would owe capital gains tax on the $150,000 gain. This is essential to answering the question, “Do you pay taxes on inheritance?” 

Strategies for Managing Inherited Assets

To optimize the financial benefits of an inheritance, consider the following strategies:

Seek Professional Advice

Engaging with a CPA can provide personalized guidance tailored to your specific circumstances. A tax professional can help you navigate complex tax laws and ensure you comply with all regulations while maximizing your financial benefits. 

Understand Asset Types

Different assets have varying tax implications. For instance, inherited IRAs require minimum taxable distributions. On the other hand, if you inherit stocks or real estate, you might benefit from the step-up in basis, reducing your potential capital gains tax. 

Plan for the Future

Incorporating inherited assets into your long-term financial planning can ensure they are managed effectively and tax-efficiently. Consider how these assets fit into your overall financial goals and strategies, such as retirement planning, education funding, or charitable giving. 

Charitable Contributions

Donating inherited assets can provide significant tax benefits if you are charitably inclined. For example, donating appreciated stock to a charity can allow you to avoid capital gains taxes while receiving a charitable deduction for the total market value of the stock. 

The Role of Estate Planning

Proper estate planning can minimize the tax burden on your heirs and ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes. Working with an estate planning professional and a CPA can help you develop strategies to reduce estate taxes and protect your legacy.


Establishing trusts can be an effective way to manage and distribute your assets while minimizing taxes. Trusts can control how and when your assets are distributed, and certain types of trusts can offer tax benefits. For example, a revocable living trust can help avoid probate, while an irrevocable trust can remove assets from your taxable estate. 


Making gifts during your lifetime can reduce the size of your taxable estate. The annual gift tax exclusion allows you to give up to $15,000 per recipient per year without incurring gift taxes. Over time, this can significantly reduce the value of your estate, which is subject to estate taxes. 

Common Questions About Inheritance Taxes 

Do you pay taxes on inheritance in North Carolina?

No, North Carolina does not have a state inheritance tax. However, federal estate taxes may apply to large estates, and income taxes may apply to certain inherited assets. 

How can I reduce the tax burden on my heirs? 

Effective estate planning strategies, such as establishing trusts, making lifetime gifts, and consulting with a CPA for more information can help reduce the tax burden on your heirs.

What should I do if I inherit a retirement account?

Consult with a tax professional to understand the inherited account's distribution rules and tax implications. You may need to take the required minimum distributions and pay income taxes. 

Contact C.E. Thorn, CPA, PLLC, for More Information on Staying Compliant with Inheritance Tax

Navigating the intricacies of inheritance taxes and financial planning can be challenging. At C.E. Thorn, CPA, PLLC, we provide comprehensive tax and financial advisory services to small business owners in Raleigh, NC and the surrounding area. Our team is dedicated to helping you make informed decisions and optimize your financial outcomes. 

For more information about our services, reach out to us today at  919-420-0092 or fill out our contact form below.

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